Getting the Wind Behind Your Sails: Pirate Ships and Propelling Brands



Although officially titled a Word of Mouth Inspiration Officer at the company Brains on Fire, Geno Church considers himself more of a “WOM (word of mouth) Cupid” and a “pathfinder” for his company’s clients. After attending his session entitled Welcome to a Brave New World, it’s not hard to see why: he’s charismatic, passionate, hilarious and innovative.

Throughout his session, Geno artfully equates the aspects of marketing to piratehood. He says that by being engaged in stories, we help things live on through mythology, symbolism and sharing. Effective marketing has to tell a relatable story that is better than all of the other stories, otherwise it won’t win over consumers. For word of mouth marketing, companies have to start with people first, as they are the center of any successful WOM campaign. Geno states that to really draw in and engage consumers, you have to “help them be what they want to be” and make their purpose your purpose. To really identify with the customer, it is important to take on their values and beliefs as your own.

Geno continues by comparing the mythology of piratehood to the mythology of a brand: you must love the brand you’re working with in order to get consumers to love the brand and lifestyle associated with it. In this sense, if consumers love your brand and its stories, it will become a “shared ship;” consumers will not only jump on board but will encourage others to do the same. Eventually, with enough positive word of mouth marketing from everyday consumers who love your brand, your “shared ship” will become a “self-driven” ship. If not, your consumers will sense doubt and either mutiny or abandon the ship.

But how does all of this word-of-mouth marketing (or WOMMology, as Geno calls it) work? He says there are three parts:

  1. Functional
  2. Social
  3. Emotional

The functional part of WOMM serves as the nuts and bolts “stuff:” shared information and factual knowledge that helps consumers to gather more information and make decisions. It is vital as it is the centerpiece of WOMM. The second part, social, usually involves social signaling, or how a brand as well as consumers showcase their uniqueness. Last, but not least, is the emotional factor: if the brand does not elicit the correct, “balanced” emotional response, people will not talk about it. This means the marketing showcased has to provoke enough of a response, either good or bad, for people to want to bring it to another person’s attention. As Geno puts it: if someone thinks “This is okay”, they are pretty unlikely to talk about it on their own.

Just like pirates sailing on a ship, Geno encourages us both as Integrated Marketing professionals and consumers, to inspire and encourage exploration. He reminds us that just because customers buy something, that doesn’t mean their loyalty or trust in that brand is set in stone. And, just like a pirate raising his telescope to search for unchartered land or another ship to raid and take over, don’t be afraid to take risks and look beyond what is directly within plain sight.

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